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Intermediate Colors: What Are They?

What are intermediate colors? Well, in the opinion of this artist, teacher, and clothing designer, they are the most beautiful and fabulous color mixes out there! Let’s get a clear definition, then see examples, hand-illustrated by my drawings.

What Are Intermediate Colors?

An intermediate color is defined as the result of mixing a primary color with the secondary color next to it on a color wheel. For example, blue and green make blue-green, called teal. Blue is a primary color, and green is a secondary color right next to it on the wheel.

Intermediate colors are bright, clear, and cheerful… not muddy. Why? Because muddy or neutral brown, gray, and black are created by pigment combinations that use all three primary colors — but intermediate colors only use two primaries, and completely exclude the third.

For example, yellow and green make the vibrant yellow-green intermediate color called chartreuse. Red is completely left out of this mix, meaning that yellow plus green is actually just yellow, plus half yellow, half blue (the ingredients of green).

Intermediate colors
Intermediate colors are great!

The RYB Color Model

Now, in order to accurately discuss secondary and intermediate colors (or colours, if you’re British), we need to understand that there are actually several ways to define primary colors. This is important, because it changes all the results of mixing them together. Huh?!

To reassure you: we will be working in this article with the traditional RYB color model which has red, yellow, and blue as the primary colors — based on what happens when you do hands-on pigment mixing.

However, it’s important to note that there are other systems out there. In the additive RGB model used with digital screens, red, GREEN, and blue are the primary colors. Meanwhile, in the subtractive CMY or CMYK model used in printing, cyan, magenta, yellow, and sometimes black are the foundational colors. Oh my! Let’s stick to RYB here.

How Many Intermediate Colors Are There?

The answer to how many intermediate colors there are requires some simple math. There are three primary colors, and in the RYB color system, those combine to make three secondary colors: red and yellow make orange, yellow and blue make green, and blue and red make purple.

Combine each primary color with the secondary color next to it on the wheel, and you get the result: there are six intermediate colors. Let’s meet them now!

Intermediate Colors

What are intermediate colors? On a color wheel, they're the six combinations of each primary color with the secondary color next to it. See the full list here from the RYB pigment model.

Tertiary and Analogous Colors

I hope you enjoyed that list of intermediate colors! Now, a few more definitions. Are intermediate colors tertiary colors? By some definitions, yes, because in those models, tertiary colors are the combinations of a primary color with a secondary color.

In other models, the answer is no, because tertiary colors are seen in those frameworks as the combination of a secondary color with another secondary color, such as purple and orange or green and purple. How do analogous colors fit in?

The term “analogous colors” refers to a set of colors that are similar, and are next to each other on a color wheel. So yes, a triad of one intermediate color plus the two surrounding colors that make it — like red, vermilion, and orange — would be considered analogous colors.

Intermediate Colors, in Sum

Now, which intermediate colors are YOUR favorites, and why? Which show up the most in your clothing, artwork, and home decor? Do share!

Want more? Check out, “Why is art important?”